THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS: High Speed Sequel Mainly Spins Its Wheels
Overstuffed, generic, and with poorly executed CGI action, The Fate of the Furious is nothing more than another franchise crowd-pleaser.
The Fate of the Furious is a lot like the muscle cars it celebrates – loud, shiny and colorful. It’s also on cruise control, even in the fast lane. It would be difficult to imagine a more cynical calculated crowd-pleaser than this. Everything about the script has a paint-by-numbers, erector set feel to it. Though only one writer (Chris Morgan) is credited, this eightquel feels less scripted than programmed, coded and run past a battery of focus groups.
But then The Fast and the Furious and its improbable line of sequels isn’t just a movie franchise – it’s a major corporate asset for Universal Pictures, a studio not overburdened with franchise properties. The fan base for The Fast and the Furious movies has a sense of loyalty that rivals a Donald Trump rally. That, of course, is good news for the distributor, while at the same time making the entire franchise virtually critic-proof.
Co-star Paul Walker’s death hangs over movie like a shroud
The untimely death of Paul Walker, who co-starred with Vin Diesel in the first installment, and several installments after, hangs over Fate of the Furious like a pall, right down to the ominous title. Walker’s character, and longtime love interest, have supposedly retired from the international adventuring business, which is probably preferable to writing in the characters’ deaths.
But even without them, this is a crowded movie – virtually every character left standing from previous installments gets shoehorned in somehow. You could be forgiven for wishing that the Fast and Furious movies were numbered. Of the sequels, only 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (neither of which featured original series star Vin Diesel) have anything particularly distinctive about them.
Fate of the Furious, logo-ized to the eye-catching F8 for the posters, is in fact the eighth installment in the muscle car movie franchise that debuted in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious. That’s a number that should make even James Bond and Harry Potter take notice, and Universal has managed it in only 16 years. That may sound like a lot, but other than a certain boy wizard, find another franchise that’s managed to crank out the sequels that regularly.
Fate of the Furious opens in Cuba, where Dominic and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon. The honeymoon is interrupted when Dom agrees to race a Cuban loan shark who wants to take his cousin’s jalopy in payment of an overdue debt. Dom soups up the jalopy with a nitrous-oxide canister that will either put the car into warp drive or just blow it up. The gorgeous location shooting, with Dom crossing the finish line in a flaming car, is one of the few truly exuberant moments in a movie that is otherwise content to largely spin its wheels.
Dom Toretto (Diesel) “goes rogue” in this installment, not that the audience will buy into that for a second. Dom lost his antihero status years ago, thanks in large part to his own endless speechifying about the importance of family. Clearly newcomer baddie Charlize Theron has something on Dom that would be really, really important to him – now what could that be? There will be no spoilers here, but frankly, only complete newcomers to the medium of movies will be surprised.
Theron’s character, unfortunately named Cipher, is straight from 007 central casting, out to steal nukes as part of a campaign to promote global accountability or some such. Theron is terrible but even Helen Mirren, who cameos in F8, couldn’t have done much with the dialogue she’s handed, sociological and anthropological rants that play like they were lifted from the Apocalypse Now Padded Past All Reason cut.
Dom’s team, recruited by “Mr. Nobody” Kurt Russell to bring him, is at full strength, at least, now that Jason Statham, reprising his role as nemesis to Dwayne Johnson in the last movie has been added as a series regular, along with Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel as last movie’s cute hacker, Ramsey, who bears a deliberate resemblance to Naomi Harris in the Daniel Craig Bond movies. Series newcomer Scott Eastwood, as Mr. Nobody’s bumbling sidekick, is an obvious placeholder for Paul Walker, and the only thing distinctive about both his character and his performance is an annoying habit of consistently mispronouncing the word “nuclear.”
Plays like two movies – one starring Diesel, the other starring The Rock
F8 actually functions like two separate movies, one focusing on Vin Diesel‘s Dom Toretto and the other on Dwayne Johnson‘s Hobbs, now running Toretto’s team. The two share precious little screen time. Whether or not this is due to the rumored tension between the two stars is a matter of speculation, but if so, some leading men would do well to remember that letting The Rock into your sequel has certain built-in risks. Perhaps that’s why Diesel spends most of his screen time scowling and generally looking surly (or perhaps he read the reviews of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage).
None of the entries in this franchise are particularly known for their humor, other than the odd quip here or there, usually delivered by Tyrese Gibson or Ludacris. That being said, one of F8’s most entertaining moments comes when soccer dad Johnson leads his daughter’s girls soccer team in a Polynesian martial arts routine in front of their properly terrified opponents.
The globe spanning plot rivals a Bond or Bourne movie. Transitions are accomplished faster than shifting gears on a standard, generally by the sort of computer hocus pocus that only works in the movies, or with Dwayne Johnson, generally while driving a million miles an hour, shouting instructions into conspicuously handheld walkie talkies, radios and other communication devices that are not connected to Bluetooth.
Stunt crew larger than the cast
The stunt crew is significantly larger than the cast. That’s not particularly surprising. The action is where Fate of the Furious lives and breathes, of course, and there is no stinting. Not that all of the action is done practical. Most of the action sequences are at least augmented with CGI, and even if the audiences can’t tell by looking that some of the stuff isn’t real, it is a little disheartening to believe that anyone thinks cars can actually do what they are shown doing here.
Two sequences that feature more practical work and less CGI include a dizzyingly entertaining, over-the-top parkour and kung fu prison riot, and a high speed chase set in Manhattan, which truth be told was probably shot in Cleveland. (Cleveland regularly stands in for New York City in Marvel’s Avengers movies.)
There is actually something slightly nauseating about the New York car chase action set-piece, in which literally dozens of stunt performers, portraying innocent civilians, dive out of the way as Hobbs’ team – the good guys, mind you – blow through red lights, careen over sidewalks and crash through buildings in high performance sports cars. Yes, of course it’s only a movie, but this sort of thing reduces Fate of the Furious to the level of a Grand Theft Auto video game, devoid of depth, drama, characterization or even the common decency of regard for human life.
Director F. Gary Gray is a newcomer to the franchise, and it’s an unlikely follow-up to Straight Outta Compton. He’s a perfectly competent director, and F8 is certainly a handsome and well-mounted production. But a movie like this owes as much to its second unit director and stunt coordinator (stunt veteran Spiro Razatos wears both hats here) and special effects subcontractors as it does anyone else. You might find yourself missing his earlier movies, particularly his entertaining remake of The Italian Job (also starring Charlize Theron) which featured almost exclusively practical stunt work.
A director’s job here is, to a large degree, coordinating and assembling the footage that arrives like packages from Amazon. One thing notable in Gray’s approach – he seems to be putting the obligatory shots of beautiful young women in very skimpy shorts under duress. There are certainly fewer of them than in earlier installments.
High octane, turbo charged, and ultimately thoroughly mechanical, The Fate of the Furious is an empty-headed and essentially soulless popcorn movie with modest aspirations in every regard but box office. Those, however, it achieves.
What do you think? Are the Fast and Furious movies a franchise that deserves more respect? Or is this a series that’s essentially run out of gas?
The Fate of the Furious is now playing in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
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